Summary: Palm Sunday Sermon
Good News / Bad News
Hey, did you ever hear the one about when the guy says, "I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news..."? Of course you have. There’s more than one. It’s a classic vaudeville set-up line. Did you ever notice how when you look at the original events of Holy Week, the week we are starting today, what happened from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is almost like one of those "Good news and Bad news" jokes?
The good news is that Jesus Christ reached the peak of his popularity this week, riding in a triumphal procession into the holy city of Jerusalem. There was a big, spontaneous parade, which was yet prophetically predicted in the Old Testament. There were adoring masses, thronging crowds, everybody turned out, the disciples were very impressed, and the Pharisees and the Sadducees realized that they had underestimated this simple Galilean teacher. Riding this crest of public approval Jesus rode that donkey right to the Temple, the very center of the Jewish faith, and began to teach and preach.
From Sunday to Thursday Jesus was unstoppable. His enemies tried to trick him several times -- but to no avail; each time he turned the tables on them and exposed their treachery. They thought about arresting him, but were afraid of what the people would do. No one even seriously complained when he overturned the tables of the money-changers.
And of course, in this same period Jesus set the tone for his church, washing his own disciples feet and telling them (and us), "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." He instituted the Lord’s Supper and provided us the power to be his disciples, doing his work, in this world. Like I said, the good news is from Sunday to Thursday Jesus was unstoppable.
So, what’s the bad news?
On Thursday he was betrayed and arrested and on Friday he was hung on a cross and killed. Today the palms - tomorrow the passion -- good news and bad news - but it’s not a joke. There’s nothing funny about the fact that the same people who shouted "Hosanna" “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” on Sunday shouted "Crucify him," just five days later. Everybody’s hero became an object of scorn and hatred, a bloody sacrifice.
Is there anything we can learn from this? Of course there is -- and it has been customary in looking for that lesson to focus on the experience of the people around Jesus and from what they say and do come up with a message that goes like this: "Don’t be like those who cheered one day and jeered the next. Don’t wave your palm branches today, then forget all about Jesus and his - err your - mission tomorrow. Be faithful and see yourself as Jesus’ loyal follower every day, every moment, of your life." That’s a good message - But, this morning, just for a moment, let’s put ourselves in Jesus’ place rather than in the shoes of someone around him...
What was Christ’s experience with all this good news / bad new from Palm Sunday to Good Friday?
Paul gives us good insight: Jesus... being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (think "flaunted") but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
Did you hear it? "He made himself nothing.... he took on the very nature of a servant .... he humbled himself ... he made himself obedient to death." These things remind us of something that’s easy to forget when we’re always put ourselves in the crowds’ shoes on Palm Sunday, wondering "how could they?" Paul’s words remind us that Jesus intentionally chose his path. He chose to leave the safety of Galilee. He chose to confront the powers of darkness right where they were most powerful.
What this "choosing" means is that all the uphill - downhill, good news / bad news, palms one day - passion the next, had nothing REALLY to do with what Jesus was about.
Jesus knew the purpose of his life to be that of Savior, not celebrity. He knew saving required sacrifice, - the sacrifice of not being able to do what he would have always preferred to do (cf. his prayer in the Garden), the sacrifice of living life for others, not for himself, and ultimately the sacrifice of himself on a cross that everyone else but him deserved. He knew this was the only way for sinners to be saved and no issue of popularity or acceptance could deter him from it.